Malcolm X once said, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
While this is particularly true at Greenfield Community College— where programs are aligned with current and emerging employment opportunities— for many students, owning tomorrow requires more than a degree.
How do students successfully bring their skills into the workforce? How do they leverage their education in order to have an impact? How does learning lead to purposeful and lucrative careers?
These questions inform the mission of GCC’s Career Services Center, whose goal is to empower students to become career ready by giving them: resources to make informed career decisions; tips and tools to prepare for internships and job applications; access to professional connections and employment opportunities; and the chance to align their education path with their life goals as well as the job market.
Head of the center, Shannon Doran, came to GCC in September of 2019 from the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board, where she worked with Franklin County high schools, helping students make informed career and education decisions and giving them access to work-based learning opportunities.
“When we are researching occupations, it’s like we are looking at a catalogue of life,” says Shannon, “I think the process as well as the career/education path we choose can be very fulfilling.”
This isn’t just her opinion— research has shown that graduates who engage with career services are more likely to find their more jobs satisfying and meaningful.
Shannon has been building GCC’s Career Services Center steadily over the past year, designing and implementing services and programs to meet the needs of all students. While she started by focusing on workshops and individual career counseling, this year she has brought the center to a new level — adapting to the reality of Covid and implementing programs that speak specifically to marginalized students who experience greater barriers in breaking into their dream jobs.
According to a Gallup poll, college graduates who visit their college career centers are “more likely to be employed full time.” This is even truer for black graduates, where a 12% point gap in full-time employment separates those who visited career services (66 percent) from those who didn’t (54 percent).
In order to serve students with a wide variety of resources, GCC Career Services Center will often promote the work of regional MassHire Career Centers. In fact, one of Shannon’s former colleagues, Jen Droesch—the Executive Assistant at the MassHire Workforce Board— has since become a student and tutor at the college.
Jen’s personal story of coming to GCC illustrates the value of charting a course towards one’s own future. Three years ago, at 30, Jen decided she wanted to change careers. She started by writing down what she wanted out of a job— a process of self-reflection which led her to set her eyes on UMass for a degree in engineering. But when Jen saw the price tag of a four year degree, she decided GCC would be a smarter and more sustainable next step.
One of her colleagues at the Workforce Board was associated with the Manufacturing Skills Initiative and introduced her to a faculty member in the GCC Science Department. That faculty member went on to introduce Jen to Amy Ehmann, her current Faculty Advisor who, two years later, is helping Jen apply to UMass to pursue her degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The skills Jen Doresch demonstrated in pursuing her path follow key learnings she has acquired within the realm of career services. One of those is understanding the cost to benefit ratio of pursuing a particular degree. But another, which Jen calls out specifically, is the advice to build a network and leverage it often.
When asked how her experience at the workforce board has impacted her, Jen says, “The biggest thing it has drilled home for me is the lack of workforce development readiness given to people who attend college. You get tons and tons of educational requirements thrown at you, but you never learn how to write a resume or a cover letter. Some schools throw a job fair out there, but even that isn’t mandatory.”
“You are your resume,” emphasizes Jen, “Regardless of your education, it can be one of the most valuable tools you have.”
Resume development is something that GCC Career Services promotes actively and regularly. In addition to providing a 3-part webinar series on resume development each semester, they also match students with volunteer Career Success Mentors to get additional 1:1 development and editing support.
A Licensed Guidance Counselor with a Master’s in Education, Shannon has a long-standing commitment to increasing education and employment equity. In addition to increasing access to equity-focused career development resources, she has launched Career Success (CS) Groups, where BIPOC students or students with disabilities can meet with Career Services monthly, in order to talk through their career aims, make a realistic action plan, and get extra support in achieving their goals over the course of the semester.
“It’s often the middle upper class that have been taught to advocate and to feel comfortable asking for what they need,” says Shannon. “If we passively wait for students to come to us for support, we end up inadvertently excluding and not serving the students who have not been enculturated to advocate that way. That is not equity.”
Like Jen, many people will have more than one career in their lives, let alone numerous roles in a particular area of interest. “I think of this whole process as empowerment. The truth is, most of us are doing some level of career exploration as long as we are employed,” says Shannon, “Career research, self-reflection, networking, and work-informed learning like internships, can help us hone in on an industry or field that is consistent with our interests, values, strengths, and goals. Then, when we have found our career path, we can keep exploring ways to actualize our emerging potential.”
As Shannon or Jen will attest: engaging with your own career development doesn’t mean automatically getting your dream job right out of the gate.
“But it does mean we increase the chances of that happening within our lifetime,” says Shannon. “Often sooner and in a more strategic, affordable, and fulfilling way.”
TO LEARN MORE: gcc.mass.edu/career-services
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